The second rule is that the Bible explains itself. Despite all the modern aids, tools and well intended help of other people, we only can resolve our questions when we continue to search the Bible.
This rule is based upon the fact that God is the only one who understands Himself. He is the one to whom we must go for help in answering questions about His Word. How does God answer us when we ask anything of Him, including an understanding of His Word? Through the Bible. Therefore, when we wonder about a verse in the Bible, we return to the Bible for an explanation.
First, let us look at I Corinthians 2:13. I Corinthians 2:13 explains the method by which God teaches His Word, as we read, "the Holy Ghost teacheth, comparing spiritual things with spiritual." Spiritual things are Words of God, as we read in John 6:63. God teaches His people to understand His words as He leads them to compare one part of the Bible with another part. Therefore, if we do not understand a verse, God will teach us when we go back to another part of the Bible and compare the verse with other verses. We compare the Bible with the Bible for understanding.
Next let us turn to I Corinthians 14:32. The word "spirits," in the phrase "the spirits of the prophets," is plural and does not refer to the Holy Spirit. It refers to the spiritual part of all the prophets, to the spiritual part of all men who are assigned to bring God's Word. It is the spiritual part of a man that is sensitive to the spiritual information that God gives him. In this verse, the words "the spirits of the prophets" apply to the men in Corinth who received a message from God. However, the words "to the prophets" refer to different prophets. Who are they? The word "prophets" in the phrase "to the prophets" refers to the prophets who spoke long ago and whose prophesies have been written down. In short, the words "to the prophets" apply to those men who wrote the Word of God, namely, all of the Bible that existed up to the time that Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthians. It is to these ancient prophets that the men in Corinth "are subject."
This verse is not saying all the men in Corinth who received a message from God had to get together and discuss the prophesies that each had and then form some sort of consensus about what God meant. Rather, the idea of this verse is that any message from God that a man brings to the congregation has an appointed meaning, assigned to it by other prophets, that is, the Word of God. The spirits of the prophets that brought a Word from God to the Corinthians were subject to the Word of God. Today, of course, true prophets of God, men who bring messages to the church, talk not about new revelation but of what has already been written about in the Bible. Therefore the rule of this verse is that what men teach today is subject to the scrutiny of the Bible.
Therefore, we come to the same conclusion as we do in I Corinthians 2:13. When we do not understand a part of the Bible, we must ask God for wisdom and listen to Him in the only place He speaks today, the Bible. That is a foundational rule in Bible study that serves as a beacon which guides us to the truth. We must compare scripture with scripture.
We can illustrate this rule in the following way. For as long as people have studied the Bible, they have reached a point in their study in which they have asked the question, "what does that mean?" And for as long as people have studied the Bible there have been only two ways of answering that question. Let me illustrate those two ways with the following story.
Imagine for a moment you receive a letter from a good friend who lives in a different city. Let's say that the letter is several pages long and as you read it some parts are clear and easy to understand while other parts are hard to figure out. Now you have a problem. What did your friend mean by those obscure passages? In our story, we will assume that he is a good friend and you really want to understand all of his letter. It is important to you. There are only two possible solutions to your problem.
First of all, you could put your friend's letter on a table, set down some paper next to it, and then proceed to rewrite the letter sentence by sentence. When you come to those parts that have a fairly obvious meaning, you could just copy them without any changes. However, when you come to those parts whose meaning you can't figure out, you would have to set it down in different words so that it would make more sense to you. If you were really good friends and were familiar how he thought, maybe you would guess right and end up with a sentence that was pretty close to what he had intended. When you finished your copy, you would have a letter that contained just about everything that he wrote, with some parts modified so that you could more easily read and understand them. That is one thing that you could do.
There is a second thing that you could do that would be a lot easier and assure you of understanding the difficult parts perfectly. You could reach for your telephone, call him and ask him about those parts of his letter that you didn't understand. That sounds so simple doesn't it? It not only is easier than struggling to discover or invent a meaning, but also it is the only way to be sure that you understand your friend correctly.
This little story shows the two ways that people try to understand the Bible. The first way is a very poor way to study the Bible. Unfortunately, it is the method that has been usually used through out time and is the most popular method today. Many people try to use clever assumptions and educated guesses in order to get at the real meaning of the Bible. However, pious scholarship and impressive research in the writing style and culture of the times in which the Bible was written only results in weariness of the flesh as well as libraries full of books. That does not result in an accurate and clear understanding of the Bible. On the other hand, a few people seek understanding of the Bible from the One who wrote it in the first place and Who also speaks to them through the Bible. That is the only way that anyone can be sure that he understands the Bible correctly.
So in summary we can either guess or we can ask. Those are the only two ways to understand something that has been written to us by someone else. In the case of the Bible, we ask God, who answers us through the Bible.
Incidentally, if we compare scripture with scripture, we can be quite bold in our stand of an interpretation, that is, if we have done our homework well. This boldness is often an irritation to those who take the "guess" approach in as much as they think that we ought to be tolerant of all opinions and that Bible verses allow different interpretations depending upon a person's point of view. However, the Bible is subject only to the Person who wrote it in the first place, God.
Let us consider Judges 1:6. We shall try to understand the phrase "and cut off his thumbs and his great toes." What a strange phrase. How bizarre. We could just decide that the men of Judah and Simeon were so vengeful, or full of the emotion of battle, that they got carried away and maimed the king, their chief enemy. Or we could try to fit that brutal behavior into the culture of the times and dismiss it an imitation of the typical barbaric behavior of their neighbors. The explanation might sound logical to men, but it is not good Bible study.
On the other hand, we can apply the second rule to our verse as we try to answer the question, "What does God have to say about this phrase?" Going back to the Bible, we read the following in Exodus 29:20. "Then shalt thou (Moses) kill the ram, and take of his blood, and put it upon the tip of the right ear of Aaron, and upon the tip of the right ear of his sons, and upon the thumb of their right hand, and upon the great toe of their right foot, and sprinkle the blood upon the alter round about."
Now we do not have to guess about the meaning of Judges 1:6. We have only to ask, "How could the king of Judah's enemies ever be consecrated by the ram of sacrifice if he did not have a right thumb or right toe?" The answer is that he could not be. The picture of Judges is that the enemy king cannot not covered by the blood sacrifice because he no longer has a right thumb and right big toe. He is cursed, without any hope of a sacrificial covering. He is a picture of Satan who is the king of the nation that opposes the kingdom of God and his people who and are not covered by Jesus' blood and so are condemned. Judges 1:6 is an Old Testament edition of Philippians 3:18,19.
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